Trail News

Urban Paddling: Ecotour Guides Share History, Oysters, and Local Brews

July 21, 2022

Hampton, Virginia.  For many people, it probably stirs up thoughts about busy I-64, the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, and heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic.  But with the help of Claire and Linda of Shored Up, that image you might have in your mind will completely change.

Meet Claire Neubert and Linda Hamm.  With their passion for the environment and their extremely welcoming energy, this dynamic duo is on the cutting edge of ecotourism.  But before we delve into what they’re currently accomplishing, let’s take a look at where it all began.  The two have been friends and neighbors for many years.  Claire began growing oysters from her dock in Hampton back in 2006.  By 2015, Linda was also growing oysters.  Their shared passion for the environment and clean waterways led them to getting involved with Hampton’s Clean City Commission and Hampton Waterways Restoration, as well as becoming Clean Water Captains through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From there, it only felt natural to form Shored Up, LLC and continue raising awareness and inspiring stewardship.

Now, fast forward to 2021.  Claire and Linda took a leap of faith and applied for a Chesapeake Oyster Innovation Grant.  The grant is funded by the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and has the mission to “increase knowledge within priority audiences of the value of oysters, oyster fisheries and aquaculture efforts.”  Then, at the beginning of 2022 (drumroll please), Shored Up was notified that they were awarded the grant!

And that’s when the real work began.  Claire and Linda buckled down and got to planning their Hampton Oyster Paddles and SHELLabration, affectionately known as “HOPS” (because, well, there are some hops involved which we’ll explain later).  The theme of their guided kayak trips and upcoming SHELLabration event is “Oysters make the bay a better place for business.”

The three grant-funded, guided oyster paddles are taking place throughout the summer and are by invitation only, in an effort to target key audiences and truly help make the bay a better place for business.  We’re talking college environmental science majors, teachers, local business owners, tourism professionals, and municipal decision-makers.  Oh, and part of the Virginia Water Trails team!

We were lucky enough to make it to Shored Up’s second oyster paddle on July 16.  After a warm welcome via email, complete with everything we needed to know (parking, what to bring, what to expect), Claire and Linda’s bright smiles were right there to greet us at the kayak launch at Mill Point Park.  Within a few minutes of our arrival, we spotted some splashing and ripples in the river. Several bottlenose dolphins were headed downstream, breaking the surface for a minute as if to say “Get ready, this day is going to be awesome!”

As other participants began to arrive, we quickly realized what a cool mix of people we were going to paddle with.  We were joined by representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Hampton City Schools, the Virginia Oyster Trail, Oyster Recovery Partnership, Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, and Ohana Surf & Paddle Club, Hampton Neighborhood Commissioners, Sam Rust Seafood, Norfolk Public Schools, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and local tourism professionals.

Once we were all on the water, Claire took the lead and headed upstream.  Our first stop was under a massive, 100+ year old live oak tree where we enjoyed the shade while learning about the history of Hampton, dating back to the early 1600s when Captain John Smith first explored the Chesapeake Bay and enjoyed harvesting oysters, some the size of a man’s shoe!  We also learned about how the first enslaved Africans who were brought to North America, came to the shores of Fort Monroe, just a stone’s throw from Hampton.  They had a skillset that was crucial to the success of the seafood industry in Hampton.  Fast forward through the years, through the burning of Hampton during the Civil War, and to a rebuilt city, Hampton soon became home to a thriving seafood industry, also nicknamed “Crabtown.”

After enjoying the shade of the oak tree’s massive canopy, we headed back out into the sunshine, downstream to check out some oyster cages and learn about oyster gardening.  Caitlin of Sam Rust Seafood, hopped out onto the dock to explain how the oyster population in the Chesapeake has been depleted over the years, and she went over the goals of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance.  She also went over the life cycle of an oyster and the importance of saving oyster shells after shucking.

Next we headed further downstream to see some commercial seafood industry piers, some dating back to colonial times.  We saw Graham & Rollins seafood company, the new building for Virginia Tech’s Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research & Extension Center, and learned a bit about how climate change and sea level rise are impacting the area.  We were excited to hear that many of Hampton’s hardened shorelines will eventually be converted into living shorelines in the future, as part of Resilient Hampton’s mission to help the city endure flooding events and continue to thrive.

We then paddled down the river a bit more, rounded Cedar Point, and entered Sunset Creek.  Some of the oldest homes in Hampton can be seen from this part of the river, including Hampton’s “Little England” district, and the city’s oldest home, the Herbert House, built in 1753.

As we paddled back to Mill Point Park and admired the various vessels cruising to and from the mouth of the bay, Claire and Linda shared some personal stories about the diversity in visitation Hampton sees, with boaters stopping by from all over the world.  A highlight for them was when a young family from Switzerland stopped them as they were tending their oysters.  The family was docking in Hampton for a few days to take the train up to Washington D.C., and they were fascinated with the work Claire and Linda were doing.

Once we were back at the launch, the day’s adventures weren’t quite over.  The whole group reconvened at Bull Island Brewing for a cold beverage and a spread of munchies (we told you “hops” would come into play again!).  While we sat back and relaxed, Claire and Linda continued to educate, even showing a few historic oyster and crab tins from J.S. Darling and S.S. Coston.

But that’s not all!  Each participant also received a swag bag with hand-outs and goodies from Shored Up and all of the supporting partners of HOPS.

While Shored Up’s oyster paddles are by invitation, their SHELLabration is free and open to everyone!  Be sure to put November 19 on your calendar for a fun-filled day on Hampton’s waterfront, complete with live music, exhibitors, vendors, and family-friendly activities.  And be sure to pre-order your oysters from Lambert Shellfish and pick them up at the event!  More details about the event will be posted on Shored Up’s facebook page.

logo for the Virginia ecotour guide programVirginia Water Trails’ main goal is to connect people to world-class ecotourism destinations in rural, coastal Virginia, but we do have certified ecotour guides in more urban areas.  Claire and Linda have been certified ecotour guides since 2020 and they are clearly on the cutting edge of urban paddling, which is garnering interest and popularity across the globe.  For more information on how you can experience the wonders of coastal Virginia with the expertise of an experienced guide, be sure to check out our ecotour guide listings.

And next time you find yourself near Hampton, Virginia, we encourage you to stop and explore Hampton’s waterfront, and immerse yourself in the rich oyster heritage of the city.

Happy Water Trails!

About the Author: Laura Scharle lives on the Eastern shore of Maryland and is a frequent paddler in coastal Virginia. She is a Virginia certified ecotour guide and is an independent marketing contractor with a focus in ecotourism and heritage tourism. Laura can be reached through our Eastern Shore ecotour guide listings.